The KISS – it really works

by sue on November 9, 2009

We’ve all heard of “the KISS principle” – Keep it Short and Simple. When it comes to writing, that’s good advice.

Long words and long sentences make writing hard to follow. Why say something in 25 words when 12 will do?

For example, “The non-compensable evaluation heretofore assigned certain veterans for their service-connected disability is confirmed and continued,” desperately needs to be translated into meaningful English. Let’s try, “Disabled veterans whose physical condition has not changed still won’t receive any money.”

Let’s try this one. “The executive director said that this data represents the first instance in which utilization experience of a large prepayment carrier in covering in-patient mental illness has been analyzed.” You need to be a detective to figure that one out. Perhaps it means, “The executive director says this data will show whether insurance affects the rate of hospitalization for mental illness.” Or maybe not.

Why do people write those big, long, complicated sentences? Do they think convoluted terminology makes them seem smart? As readers, do we think they’re smart? Or do we simply tune out and move on?

So the second rule is Keep it Short and Simple. KISS your writing. Tests of comprehension show that short sentences with simple structure are most easily understood by people with all levels of education. People with five PhDs like clear, plain English just as much as someone without much education. And for the growing number of people we deal with whose first language is not English, clear and plain language is a gift.

I’m not recommending that we write like a Grade One Reader. “See Spot run. Jump, Spot, jump!” But a good rule is to write about who (the subject) did what (the action) to whom or what (the object).

Keep KISS in mind. Your readers will love you for it!

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